Air Products, a chemical manufacturer, wanted to shorten processing times for the Chemical Process Simulator that it uses to design key portions of its manufacturing plants. To increase business agility and support engineers’ efforts to improve process designs, the company evaluated the cloud for scalable compute power through the use of the Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 operating system with “burst to Windows Azure” functionality.
Whether it is oxygen to heat a glass furnace or hydrogen to fuel space shuttles, Air Products provides industrial gases that help customers around the world. The company operates in more than 40 countries and serves customers across a range of industries, including food and beverage, health and personal care, energy, transportation, and semiconductor.
Air Products maintains hundreds of plants that generate or recover, and then separate and purify industrial and specialty gases and chemicals that are largely sold to industrial customers. The company’s plants use specialized equipment to separate and purify the different products. Ensuring that the equipment meets changing environmental and customer requirements is a complicated and often time-consuming process.
The company developed a Chemical Process Simulator software application to design the equipment. Air Products engineers conduct their simulations on the company’s 120-core high-performance computing (HPC) cluster, but the cluster’s compute resources are in high demand. “We need our cluster to be available for multiple projects,” says Sanjay Mehta, Manager of the Computational Modeling Center at Air Products. “But that means it can take up to a few weeks to finish the chemical process simulation because our engineers lack the available compute power to run more than three or four simulations at a time.”
Bob Elward, Director of Infrastructure Engineering at Air Products, adds, “There are times when we’re under pressure to finish our design work to meet proposal deadlines. We’d like to be able to run the Chemical Process Simulator more quickly so that we can submit the optimal design solution to our prospective customers.”
||The job submission workflow and viewing of simulation results in the Windows Azure environment were seamless and intuitive, and the performance was comparable to our in-house HPC cluster.
Lead Process Modeling Engineer, Air Products
Air Products determined that increasing compute resource availability would give engineers the opportunity to conduct more simulations within the same time period and thereby improve design quality.
Air Products decided to participate in a pilot program working with the Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 operating system Service Pack 1 (SP1) and the option of “bursting” to the Windows Azure platform, which involves using a head node to quickly add Windows Azure worker roles, based on the amount of compute resources needed for a given job, and use them as if they were on-premises nodes. “We like the control of having the head node stay on-premises at Air Products,” says Elward. “We’re hoping that, by bursting to Windows Azure, our engineers can submit all their simulation runs at the same time and have results within two days.”
To design the Chemical Process Simulator to run on Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows Azure, the company is working with Structured Data, a company with expertise in custom development of multicore simulation solutions. Air Products and its partner have developed the solution using the C# programming language, Microsoft .NET Common Runtime Language 3.5, and the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system. As of June 2011, Air Products has deployed and tested the application and has transferred the program executable and data files onto Windows Azure to collect test data.
“We tested the Windows Azure/Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 configuration with more than 14 simultaneous simulation jobs, which require large storage space and long run times,” says Rakesh Kadakia, Lead Process Modeling Engineer at Air Products. “The job submission workflow and viewing of simulation results in the Windows Azure environment were seamless and intuitive, and the performance was comparable to our in-house HPC cluster.”
Possible future plans call for Air Products to enhance the application’s performance, create an improved interface for job submission, and test for usability. The company will continue refining implementation through the end of 2011. Air Products foresees moving other applications onto Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 SP1 and bursting to Windows Azure based on the results of the pilot program participation.
With work still underway, Air Products is encouraged by its results to date and anticipates that moving its Chemical Process Simulator to Windows HPC Server 2001 R2 SP1 with burst capabilities will result in higher design quality and contribute to the company’s bottom line.
The benefits of running its simulation application on Windows HPC Server 2008 R2 and Windows Azure include:
- Improved design quality. The ability to quickly run its simulations will give Air Products engineers more freedom to design even better solutions. “With more resources at their disposal, our engineers will have time to run additional simulations and be more creative in determining the most efficient designs and processes,” says Mike Folkes, Manager of the Simulation and Design Team at Air Products.
- Increased agility and profitability. The company expects that it will be able to get product designs submitted and into production more quickly by bursting to Windows Azure. “We’re going to be faster to market with our designs, and we’ll be able to both respond more quickly to proposal requests from customers and offer optimal solutions, which we believe will result in winning more business,” says Elward.
- Better use of resources. Air Products anticipates that using burst functionality offers the company an affordable choice and a smart use of resources. “While critical, our simulation needs peak only a few times each year, so the ability to scale our processing power using Windows Azure will make a real difference,” says Elward. “We can make the most of our technology investments by ensuring that all our engineers have access to compute resources exactly when they need them.”
For more information about other Microsoft customer successes, please visit: